Search Engines, Free Speech Coverage, and the Limits of Analogical Reasoning

In Susan Brison & Katharine Gelber (eds.), Free Speech in the Digital Age. pp. 33-41 (2019)
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This paper investigates whether search engines and other new modes of online communication should be covered by free speech principles. It criticizes the analogical reason-ing that contemporary American courts and scholars have used to liken search engines to newspapers, and to extend free speech coverage to them based on that likeness. There are dissimilarities between search engines and newspapers that undermine the key analogy, and also rival analogies that can be drawn which don’t recommend free speech protection for search engines. Partly on these bases, we argue that an analogical approach to questions of free speech coverage is of limited use in this context. Credible verdicts about how free speech principles should apply to new modes of online com-munication require us to re-excavate the normative foundations of free speech. This method for deciding free speech coverage suggests that only a subset of search engine outputs and similar online communication should receive special protection against government regulation.

Author Profiles

Heather Whitney
New York University
Robert Mark Simpson
University College London


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